It is early morning in his adopted hometown, and Jessie Clark is already in his pickup truck, collecting building supplies for a remodeling project where he’ll take a neglected complex of 130 apartments in Phoenix and make them pristine once again.
This is among the bigger jobs for the general contractor and former Packers fullback, with 28 workers on his payroll for five months. He also owns a commercial carwash in the area, with three more facilities in the plans to be built over the next five years.
There has been a lot of hard work involved, but business has been good since settling in Arizona, where Clark arrived during stints with the Cardinals in 1988 and ’89. He spent five games with Detroit after departing Green Bay and finished his career with the Vikings in ’90. Make no mistake, however, Clark will always be a Packer, with whom he spent his first five NFL seasons.
“That’s where I was drafted, Bart Starr was my first head coach, and the Packers are the team I identify with,” said Clark earlier this week. “When I think of my playing days in the NFL, it’s with me as a Packer.”
Clark had an interesting career. He played for Green Bay from ’83-87, with the longshot seventh-rounder from Arkansas making the roster as the team’s third fullback. At a squatty 230 pounds, he was initially a blocker who cleared a path for running backs such as Gerry Ellis and Eddie Lee Ivery.
He was also an ace special teams player, and since Ellis also took reps as a fullback, Clark would trot into the huddle when the tough yards were needed. He ended up starting 35 of 60 games with Green Bay, missing all but five contests in ’86 with an injury.
“I’m a meat-and-potatoes guy, so I was more of the muscle,” Clark said. “I understood my role. I became the special teams captain as a rookie, because the game was always changing for what a fullback’s responsibilities would be, so the more you could do, the better. That was my mentality.”
However, for a bruiser, Clark did have a knack for the big play. As a rookie he rumbled 75 yards with a short pass for the first touchdown of his career. In ’84, he scored six TDs, including one on a 43-yard run. In ’85, Clark shook loose for an 80-yard burst – the NFL’s longest rush that season – and scored on a 55-yard reception. In ’87, he had a 57-yard carry.
Fullbacks don’t typically take off for those types of gains, particularly fullbacks whose greatest skill is considered to be selfless blocking.
Clark’s best season was ’85, when he started 14 games, led the club with seven TDs and had 633 rushing yards. Ivery (636), Clark and Ellis (571), became the only trio in team history to rush for over 500 yards in the same season.
“We had a good flow on offense going,” Clark said. “I had a leadership role, and I think I could have had a great year but I was injured. I had a torn triceps. I always ended up doing everything the hard way.”
The club would win five of its last seven contests that season, but finished 8-8. It was the last of a five-year stretch where the Packers at least contended for a playoff spot annually.
“We would get close, have illusions of grandeur and then lose games we should have won,” Clark said. “Coach Starr was my head coach when I was a rookie and it was an honor to play for him. We’d have great offenses and then wouldn’t be able to stop anyone. We went through three changes at head coach.”
The final switch at the top, in ’88, ushered in Lindy Infante and signaled the end of Clark’s time in Green Bay. Infante’s offensive system eliminated the need for an old-school fullback. While Clark had 99 catches with the Packers, his forte was moving the pile and clearing out linebackers.
“When Lindy came in, he put in more of a spread offense and they wanted an H-back,” Clark said. “They needed more of a fluid guy. He was very respectful about it.”
Clark played five games for the Lions and four with Arizona the following season. In ’89, he spent the first three contests with the Vikings before returning to the Cardinals for 11 games. In ’90, Clark went back to Minnesota and appeared in five games. For his career, he played in 88 contests. In Green Bay, he had 379 carries for 1,588 yards and nine touchdowns, with a healthy average of 4.2 yards per attempt.
The Thebes, Ark., native comes to Lambeau Field for a game each season, and he believes his NFL career and his upbringing prepared him for the success he has experienced since. Whenever the construction projects begin to trickle, it doesn’t hurt that there is rarely a rainy day in Phoenix.
“We have 321 days of blue sky, and that’s a positive,” Clark said. “People like their cars to look good in the sun. I have nine older brothers, two older sisters and a younger sister. I also played on football teams. I’ve always been in the middle of organized chaos. I joke that my job as a contractor is like babysitting grownups. I’ve always been a leader in some way and supported others, so this just fits my personality.”
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